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Despite starting 2012 as a teenager, Bryce Harper improved dramatically by the end of his rookie season.Baseball Tonight will be at Washington Nationals camp on Tuesday afternoon. The Nationals are the consensus National League favorite, returning much of their team from a 98-win season.
Let’s look at some stats to know on this team.
90 has been tough to duplicate
The Expos/Nationals franchise has won 90 or more games in consecutive seasons only once -- the 1979 and 1980 seasons.
The Nationals haven't even strung together consecutive winning seasons since 2002 and 2003.
The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the Nationals are the fourth team since 2002 to be eliminated from the postseason by losing a game in which they led in the ninth inning or later. The previous three teams -- 2005 Atlanta Braves, 2009 Boston Red Sox and 2009 Colorado Rockies -- declined by an average of nine games in win-loss record the following season. None of the three made the postseason.
Harper no longer a teen
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had a historic season by teenager standards, netting 5.0 Wins Above Replacement.
Most Wins Above Replacement Since 1900
Age-19 Season or Younger
That’s the highest total by any player in an age-19-or-younger season (age as of June 30) in baseball’s modern era (since 1900).
Harper, who turned 20 last October, ended the 2012 regular season on a tear.
Over his last 34 games, Harper hit .341 with 10 home runs in 126 at-bats and increased his average fly-ball distance from 281 feet (prior to that) to 304 feet (the rest of the season).
Harper’s 1.098 OPS in that span ranked best in the National League.
He also showed an ability to make adjustments. On breaking balls on the outer half of the plate, Harper hit .225 in the first four months of the season with just three home runs and a strikeout rate of 27.1 percent. In August and September, Harper hit .313 with a .914 OPS, four home runs and a strikeout rate of 17 percent.
Stephen Strasburg should have the freedom to go deeper into the season after being shut down last September with 159⅓ innings pitched.
Strasburg allowed 10 runs in 14 innings in his last three starts, but was brilliant throughout the season, posting a 3.16 ERA and averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Strasburg’s overpowering fastball was complemented by nasty off-speed stuff, getting a 46 percent miss rate on his curve, slider and changeup. That was the second best of any starting pitcher in the majors, trailing only Cole Hamels of the Phillies.
Notable acquisition: Denard Span
The Nationals made a trade with the Minnesota Twins for center fielder Denard Span, whose 4.8 Wins Above Replacement ranked ninth-best among AL position players last season.
Much of Span’s value last season came from his defensive play, ranking third among major-league outfielders with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.
Notable acquisition: Rafael Soriano
The Nationals added to an area that was already a team strength by signing Rafael Soriano. Last season, Washington’s bullpen ranked eighth in ERA and seventh in opponents’ batting average.
However, Washington’s bullpen was taxed quite a bit last season. Nationals relievers threw 515⅓ innings last season, second-most in the National League.
Soriano excelled at escaping trouble as the New York Yankees' closer for much of last season. Opponents were 4-for-50 (with nine walks) with two outs and men on base against him.
That .080 batting average rated best in baseball.